UYGHURS IN KYRGYZSTAN UNDER CAREFUL GOVERNMENT SUPERVISION

By Rustam Mukhamedov (01/28/2004 issue of the CACI Analyst)

On January 13, 2004, the Bishkek human rights organization “Democracy” appealed to the presidents of the U.S., Russia, Germany, Great Britain, Turkey, Kazakhstan and to the Secretary General of the United Nations to pay attention to human rights violations of Uyghurs who live in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China. This appeal included demands “to call on China to stop executions of political prisoners; to insist China to respect human rights and the right of self-determination in Eastern Turkistan; to stop the forced resettlement of Chinese to East Turkistan (XUAR); and to condemn the Nepal, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan governments for the illegal deportation of Uyghurs seeking political asylum in these states to China”. It asked for assistance in the cancellation of deportation of Uyghurs from the U.S. Guantanamo base back to China. In recent years, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan have extradited several Uyghur activists to China, including Hamit Mamat, Iliyar Zordan, Kasim Mahpid, Jalil Turdi, Baivaacha, Mamat Yasin, Mamat Sadik and others.

Following the appeal, the Chairman of the organization, Tursun Islam, made public that he had been notified by Department 9 of the SNB (National Security Service, the successor of the Soviet-time KGB) to stop disseminating information about the illegal deportation of Uyghurs back to China.

Kyrgyzstan is multinational state, and Uyghurs are the fourth largest ethnic minority after Russians, Uzbeks, and Dungans (Hui). According to official statistics, there are about 50,000 Uyghurs in Kyrgyzstan, but certain non-official statistics allege that the Uyghur compose about 200,000 people. The discrepancy ,ay be related to the fact that during Soviet times, Uyghurs were people of low standing, and therefore many Uyghurs registered as Uzbeks. There are also ethnic Uyghurs from XUAR, China, who came to Bishkek to trade. The common border along Xinjiang-Uyghur Autonomous Region has helped some politically active Uyghurs escape from China to Kyrgyzstan to seek political asylum.

Last year, on 28 July, the Uyghur community held a Kurultai (Congress) of the Uyghur Society in Kyrgyzstan, where among other the election of the chair of the Uyghur organization “Ittipak” took place. This, of course, was disliked by government officials, not to speak of the Chinese Embassy, given that Chinese authorities consider “Ittipak” a separatist organization. After the congress, officials from the Ministry of Interior (MVD) immediately came to the office of “Ittipak” and started to control documents. While such actions by law-enforcement agencies are regular events, it seems that after holding their Congress, the Uyghurs have been having more troubles with the government.

The situation is only worsened as the Kyrgyz mass media regularly publishes articles labeling Uyghurs as terrorists and extremists. On 25 August, the newspaper “Vecherniy Bishkek” published an article quoting First Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Kurmanbek Osmonov underlining that a specific threat in the region was Uyghur separatists organizations. Later however, on 24 October at a meeting with Uyghur community representatives, he argued that his statement had been misinterpreted, and that the situation remains unchanged.

The situation of Uyghurs in Kyrgyzstan is dependent on several factors: first, the bilateral agreements between Kyrgyzstan and China including on the struggle against separatism and extremism in any forms. According to the “Vecherniy Bishkek” newspaper (December 18, 2003 edition) a delegation of Kyrgyzstan’s MVD, headed by minister Bakiridin Suvanbekov visited the People’s Republic of China, where they met with Chinese Minister of National Security, Zhou Younkan. The result of this meeting was that the two sides agreed on deeper cooperation between law-enforcement agencies, on effective exchange of information, as well as on cooperation in searching for “criminals”. It is obvious that the main point here is related to Chinese Uyghurs.

The second factor is that Kyrgyzstan is keen not to see its relations with China disturbed, due to common borders and trade agreements. On September 6, 2003, Chinese Foreign minister Li Zhaoxing met with Kyrgyz foreign minister Askar Aitmatov in Bishkek, where they signed a treaty of cooperation and friendship, as well as cooperation against terrorism, particularly regarding the Eastern Turkistan Liberation Movement. Several days before this meeting, Li Zhaoxing visited Dushanbe, where he signed an agreement of cooperation in fighting terrorism, extremism and separatism. After this meeting, Li Zhaoxing told journalists that the two states jointly combat Uyghur separatists. The result is that on 26 November, Kyrgyzstan added several Uyghur groups to the list of terrorist organizations. A third and related factor is China’s military assistance to Kyrgyzstan. In the last several years, China has granted financial assistance to Kyrgyzstan’s military in the amount of 30 millions Yuan (ca. US$3.5 million).

2003 was of crucial importance to Uyghurs in Central Asia, mainly because the Regional Antiterrorist Center of the SCO opened on November 2. The RATC is partly designed to fight Uyghur separatism in the XUAR, which in turn will influence the situation of Uyghurs in Kyrgyzstan as well as in Central Asia. This became obvious after joint military exercises of SCO member states “Cooperation 2003” took place on August 6 in Kazakhstan, and on August 10-12 in the XUAR itself.